Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sermon: Sexagesima - 2019

24 February 2019

Text: Luke 8:4-15 (Isa 55:10-13, 2 Cor 11:19-12:9)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Until recently in human history, we didn’t know how seeds worked.  Now that we live in an information age, we know about computer programs.  A seed is essentially a tiny biologically-driven computer program, in which DNA code gives a complex series of exact instructions for cell division to germinate, to create a division of labor between root, stem, leaves, and flowering mechanism, and to carry out a precise life-cycle.  The DNA calls the shots as the plant flowers, bears fruit, produces new seeds with this embedded DNA code, and sends out new plants according to these same instructions.  Leaves and stems die, the flower fades, but the instruction of the DNA code endures forever.

But the seed isn’t just code in someone’s head.  The seed actually biologically modifies itself in space and time according to the code.  In other words, the seed is a self-modifying computer program, or as technocrats like to say, “artificial intelligence” – only it is real, not artificial.  

So, who wrote the code in the first place?  For we know that computers don’t program themselves unless they were originally programmed by a first programmer.

Our Lord Jesus is being cheeky when He compares the kingdom of God to the sowing of seeds.  For He is the original Seed, and the original program.  For God said, “Let there be… and there was.”  “In the beginning was the Word.” And like the seeds in the parable, Jesus doesn’t exist as a spiritual abstraction of theoretical ones and zeros made up of electrons, but is rather of the dirt and grass and rain and sun; of blood, sweat, and tears; of waking and sleeping and talking and listening, of dying and rising again.  

There is nothing artificial about plants.  We eat them.  We plant them.  Our planet depends on them for survival.  And Jesus likewise is flesh and blood, breaking into space and time, and His Word upholds and nourishes creation.  Jesus is the Logos, the logic embedded into the DNA of the universe, the data that exists eternally, or, as John the Evangelist calls Him in the prologue to His Gospel: the Word Made Flesh.

But of course, what we see with our eyes is not so spectacular.  Seeds are tiny things that we often throw away.  They may be sprinkled on our bread for a little flavor.  They are often spat out and thrown away by aficionados of watermelon.  Seeds are used by creative people in arts and crafts.

But the real power of the seed is the embedded data of God’s creative might latent in the DNA, which awaits the launch sequence to begin carrying out the very instructions of God Himself, instructions that date back to the beginning of the universe.  And in this work of the seed, entire forests and wheat fields emerge, nations of people and animals are fed, and there is no limit to the ability of the seeds to replicate.

We would look at it as a miracle if it weren’t so common.  We would consider this undeniable proof of the existence of God if we weren’t so blinded by our obsession with explaining away God by illogical logic.

But for seeds to begin their launch sequence, they must be triggered into action.  And this is where the soil comes into play.

Jesus explains the kingdom like a sower who sows seeds.  Now, our farmer isn’t like our modern agribusiness who plans (and in some cases holds copyright) on every seed.  Our sower instead “broadcasts” the seeds, scattering them everywhere.  And so, the seeds fall on different kinds of soil.

“Some fell,” says Jesus, “along the path and was trampled underfoot,” and given that it could not embed in the soil, our Lord explains, “the birds of the air devoured it.”  Some fell into rocky ground, grew up quickly in the shallowness, but did not get enough moisture and “withered away.”  Some “fell among thorns” and its growth was “choked” off, and it died.  

With each of these three soils, the seeds’ instructions are cut short by death.  There is no flower, no fruit, and no reproduction.  These seeds never reach the potential that God built into them, because His instructions are not carried out.

But then there is the “good soil” in which the seed prospers, easily executing the computer code line by line, growing, bearing fruit, and yielding “a hundredfold” of new seeds carrying the Word and spreading far and wide, cast by other sowers unto the blessing of the world.

Of course, Jesus isn’t giving us a lesson in agriculture.  The Word of God makes its way to us in the same way that a seed bears its powerful DNA into the soil.  We are the various soils in the parable that receive the Word of God.  Our Lord even explains the meaning of this parable to his disciples.  The seed that never embeds and is eaten by birds is like the Word of God coming to a person who doesn’t take it to heart.  The “devil comes and takes away the Word.”  The rocky soil is like those who “receive it [the Word of God] with joy,” but lacking a solid root foundation, doesn’t last when a “time of testing” comes, and they fall away.  The thorny soil is like unto those who are distracted, and the Word of God is choked off by “cares and riches and pleasures of life.”  

In each of these three examples, the Word of God is prevented (by the person to whom God has given it) from bearing fruit and propagating the Word – which is what we are called upon to do.  

But we are called to be the “good soil,” who “hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

Dear friends, the Christian life is not about willing ourselves to be what we think God wants us to be.  It is about getting out of the way and letting the Word of God have His way with us.  Don’t interfere with God’s will, with His instruction, with His ongoing work of creation in our world, and of us.  

Even in our technologically-advanced world, we can’t make seeds.  But we can see to it that seeds find their way to good soil.  When asked about how the Reformation brought the Gospel to Germany against all odds, Dr. Luther shrugged and said that he didn’t do anything.  He and professor Philip Melanchthon sat around drinking Wittenberg beer while the Word did everything.

The Word does it all, dear friends.  What we do is interfere.  We sin.  Our sinful flesh gets in the way of God’s Word.  We are lazy and our priorities are messed up.  We would rather sleep than go to where the sower casts the Word of God, allowing Satan to rob our hearts of God’s Word.  We are often shallow, and don’t allow the Word to sink in by study and prayer and by drinking deeply of the riches of Word and Sacrament.  We often allow the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” to choke out the Word in our lives.  We need to repent of all of these interferences that prevent our lives from bearing fruit, from being what God has created us to be.

For ultimately, dear friends, the Word is not a series of instructions.  The Word is the one who gives the instructions.  Jesus is the Word.  He is the Logos.  He is the Seed.  And in fact, in Genesis, Chapter 3, after our fall into sin, God promised the coming of a champion, the “Seed of the Woman,” who would crush our enemy’s head.  Jesus is the Seed.  And He Himself explains that seeds only carry out the will of God by dying: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Jesus points out that the seed goes into the ground.  It is dead, but the Word brings about a renewal of life.  And the plant lives again to bear fruit. 

Jesus died and was buried.  But He is the Logos, the very Word of God in the flesh.  His Word re-emerged from the soil of the earth.  His Word is spread by sowers who preach and baptize and administer the Holy Supper.  He re-emerges on the third day, rises again to life, and He is with us as the Word Made Flesh, embedded in our lives by the Word of God proclaimed, and the Word eaten and drunk in the sacrament: forgiveness, life, and salvation as a free gift!

Yes, dear friends, seeds may not look like much.  But they bear God’s almighty power.  The Word of God may not look like much, but it bears the might of the creative work of God.  As Isaiah prophesied: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater. So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it,” and, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Indeed, let us remember that the little seed of the Word is all we need, as St. Paul quotes the Lord: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

May the Seed of the Word Made Flesh find good soil in your hearts according to His Word.  May it bear fruit a hundredfold, even unto eternity!  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sermon: Septuagesima and Baptism of David Kononov - 2019

17 February 2019

Text: Matt 20:1-16 (Ex 17:1-7, 1 Cor 9:24-10:5)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Is God fair?  Does he give us what we deserve?  No.  And for that, we should be grateful.  And to illustrate this point, our Lord Jesus tells a story, a parable, to teach us how His kingdom works.  

In this story, which we call “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard,” a boss goes out in the morning to hire workers.  As the sun rises, he strikes a deal with some laborers for the standard rate of a denarius a day.  Today, we call this a “contract.”  And “he sent them into his vineyard.”

Two hours later, about eight in the morning, he hires another group, and their contract is for “whatever is right.” And “so they went.”

The same thing happens at about noon, and then about three.  Finally, at five in the afternoon, with only a single hour left in the workday, the boss hires one last group, and sends them into the vineyard too.

As the sun sets, the foreman brings the workers in to get paid.  The boss says, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.”  The guys that worked one single hour received their pay: “each of them received a denarius,” that is, a full day’s wage.

Imagine that!  They were paid for 12 hours, but only actually worked one hour.  So the guys who worked twelve hours, were really looking forward to getting paid.  Surely, they would receive much more, maybe as much as 12 days pay for a single day’s work (if the pay rate were to be equal).  At very least, they should be getting a lot more than what they originally contracted for. “But each one of them also received a denarius.”


Clearly, Jesus can’t favor such unfairness.  After all, they “have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” unlike those Johnny-come-latelies who were sitting idle all day, and who then only worked an hour in the cool air, and got paid for twelve hours.  When you look at it from the point of view of “equal pay for equal work,” this is outrageous.  Maybe this unfair boss is going to be punished in the story.  Maybe he will be forced to pay his workers more fairly.  Jesus has to fix this, right?

But instead, Jesus sides with the boss.  “Friend,” says the business owner to one of the men who worked twelve long hours for a single denarius, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go.  I choose to give to this worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

This is not what most people would expect.  Jesus sides with management over the workers, with capital over labor.  The workers are to be content with the contract that they had originally agreed to, and if the boss pays others more, that is his right – since the business and the money belong to him.  

Jesus is no Socialist, and He does not advocate the right of workers to seize what does not belong to them, or to violate their contracts.  Having said that, the main point of this parable isn’t property rights and contract law, not labor relations or economic theory.  Jesus told us that this is what “the kingdom of heaven is like.”  Jesus says that in God’s kingdom, “[T]he last will be first, and the first last.”  Jesus says that “fairness” according to the ways of the world is not how His kingdom operates.  If God gives someone something that He doesn’t also give us, if God shows undeserved mercy to someone else and does what He wishes with what belongs to Him, are we to begrudge His generosity?

By no means. 

In fact, we should thank God that He doesn’t judge us by what is fair; He doesn’t give us what we deserve.  For we deserve death and hell.  We deserve His wrath.  We justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment.  Unlike the rigid laws of our fallen world, God is free to show mercy to us.  Yes, He is unfair.  Though justice demands that we die, Christ’s death pays our debt.  Though the Lord Jesus bears the burden of hour after hour suffering under Pontius Pilate, though He endures the scorching heat of exposure to the elements upon the cross, though He does not deserve to bear this punishment that is rightfully ours – He willingly does so.  He does what he chooses with what belongs to Him, even His very body and blood, offered and shed for us as our all-atoning sacrifice, given to us us here at this altar, paying each one of us a “denarius” of salvation whether we have been Christians for years, or only for minutes.

God is not “fair,” and He does not give us what we deserve.  Instead, He shows us mercy.  He gives each and every worker in the vineyard a “denarius” of salvation, as we hear the words: “the body of Christ, given for you; the blood of Christ, shed for you.”  For we are not being paid for our own work, but rather for our Lord’s work upon the cross.  God is merciful and generous.  He keeps His end of the bargain, His covenant: which is our salvation, which is our redemption, which is eternal life to those who have been baptized and who believe.

David, on this day, you are among all of us latter workers.  Like us, you don’t deserve it.  And you are made equal to all of the Lord’s redeemed.  For you have received that which is right, not in the eyes of the world, but according to the contract, the covenant, that God made with us.  

He has given you everlasting life as a free gift, by grace, through faith, poured out upon you by water and the Spirit.  God has called you to this font.  He has cleansed you of your sins.  He has placed His Son’s righteousness upon you, according to His Word and promise.  He has given you the sign of the holy cross.  He has written your name in the Book of Life.  He will not revoke, renege, or refuse to honor His covenant.  Verbum Dei manet in aeternum, that is, the Word of God endures forever.  And His Word is truth. 

It was His will to bring you to this font on this day.  He arranged this to happen before the foundation of the world.  You are not the inferior of any Christian on the planet, for you, like all of us, are a sinner who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.  You are a saint, not by virtue of your work, but rather by the Lord’s work in the vineyard of His Church.

The Lord Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, whose flesh we eat under the form of the bread that he Himself broke and shared with His disciples “for the life of the world.”  His blood is the cup of the New Testament: the same spiritual food and the same spiritual drink: the Rock that is Christ.  The partaking of the body and blood of Christ is your Passover, even as your baptism is your watery escape in the ark of the church, your crossing of the Red Sea to the Promised Land, a salvation through water.  You have been “baptized into Christ’s death” so that “you might walk in newness of life.”  You have gone from being in the position of grumbling about God’s unfairness, to one who rejoices in His mercy, in His generosity.  

For we are all beneficiaries of His grace.  We are all those last fortunate workers who squeaked by according to His loving kindness, though we do not deserve it. 

“So the last will be first, and the first last.”  Thanks be to God, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four is one of the most important works of literature in the 20th century. 

It has shaped our view of totalitarianism and even provided a vocabulary, or more accurately, a shorthand for recognizing and articulating government overreach and abuse of our liberties.

If you have never read it, now is the time!

I have taught this book to my high school students at Wittenberg Academy since the 2013-2014 school year.

I'm sharing with you three videos: 1) a brief overview by me to my WA students, 2) a background of the alternative world of Orwell's creation (spoiler alert), and 3) a SparkNotes summary of the book (spoiler alert).

If you don't want spoilers, don't watch the latter two videos!

And if you want more information about Wittenberg Academy (a fully-accredited online classical Lutheran junior high and high school), feel free to contact me or WA directly:!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sermon: Transfiguration - 2019

10 February 2019

Text: Matt 17:1-9 (2 Pet 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

It always amazes me how so many people have no idea who Jesus is.  The cluelessness seems to increase with each passing year, and it’s not limited to unbelievers.

Some people think of Jesus as a kind of self-help guru, like the Dalai Lama (only with a beard and blue eyes) who spouts goofy spiritual soundbites.  Other people think of Jesus as a moral scold who has come into our world to remind you not say bad words and be sure to promote social justice causes.  Some people think of Jesus as the ultimate American (who of course drinks the same beer and cheers for the same teams that we do).  Others think that Jesus is the ultimate nice guy who drinks soy lattes and only says positive, uplifting things (and those people have never, ever actually read the Bible).  There are also other people who vilify Jesus as a backward rube whose hateful followers became a cult.  

Ironically, God created man in His image, but men like to create Jesus in their own image.

Even our Lord’s first disciples were guilty of this.  And this is one of the proofs that the Gospels are truthful: the apostles at times look foolish and clueless about who Jesus is.  There is no airbrushing going on in the pens of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Our Gospel reading from St. Matthew – the account of Peter, James, and John being given a glimpse of Jesus unveiled –  is one such passage.  We know it today as the Transfiguration.

At this point, the inner circle of the followers of Jesus still don’t get it.  In the chapter before our text, the disciples hear Jesus warning them of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and they are so clueless that they think He is talking about their lunch plans.  Then Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ (for which Jesus praises him), and then immediately, Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that He must be crucified (for which Jesus calls Peter “Satan”).  Peter thinks he knows what Jesus is supposed to be doing more than Jesus does Himself.  And in the chapter just after our Gospel reading, the disciples want to know who is the greatest in the kingdom. 

In reading the Gospels, it becomes apparent that a good bit of the time, the Twelve seem as ignorant of who Jesus is, and why He has come, as a lot of people are today.

And so, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John and sets them straight about who He is.  For a brief moment, Jesus takes off the figurative veil and lets them see His unhidden form.  “He was transfigured before them” – or to use the Greek term, Jesus went through a metamorphosis.  Instead of the ordinary guy they have come to love hanging out with, they see something frightening.  Jesus’ face “shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light.”  If this weren’t surreal and strange enough, they then see Jesus holding forth with Moses and Elijah.  

St. Peter, once again trying to tell Jesus how this is all supposed to work, starts plans for a building project to house Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  But “while he was still speaking,” another frightening thing happened: “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him.’”

This interruption put an end to Peter’s pontification, and the three – Peter, James, and John – immediately fell “on their faces.” 

This is not a Jesus that they can control.

No soy latte guru, no swaggering John Wayne, no finger-wagging scold, and no Mister Nice-guy – just pure, unapologetic divine power emanating from Jesus in His flesh.  Jesus is not messing around.  This isn’t about making sure you say “please” and “thank you” and use the right fork for your salad.  Not that those things are bad, of course.  But Jesus has come to eviscerate our enemy and to cure us from our mortal illness called “sin.”  He has broken into our time and space to redeem us and the world that we have corrupted.  Jesus has also come to vanquish the devil and to restore creation to its original glory.

And in order to do this, He has to die.  He comes to fall on the grenade for us.  He comes to interpose himself between the assassin’s bullet and us.  He comes to do the messy, dirty, bloody work of extracting the poison from our flesh and blood, by cleansing us with baptismal water, and then giving us His transfigured flesh and blood.  We don’t see the blazing white light from His flesh, nor do we hear the voice of God bellowing out of the clouds.  For Jesus has again veiled Himself under the forms of bread and wine.  And the Word of God is spoken by a pastor who is under holy orders by God to speak the Word of Jesus: “This is My body, which is given for you… Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood… for the forgiveness of sins.”

Those are not the pastor’s words, but the Son’s words.  And it is God the Father who says: “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.”

Jesus has come into our world to redeem the world.  Jesus has come in the flesh to cure our flesh of its mortality.  Jesus has not come to scold, but to save; not to promote a nationality, but to make disciples of all nations; not to promote niceness, but to crush our enemies: sin, death, and the devil – into the dust.

He has come to drag us out of the pit, to pull us out of hell’s flames, and to bring breath and life into our dying bodies and souls that are ridden with gangrenous sin that threatens to drag us down into the grave.  Our blessed Lord means business.

Jesus has come to put the world into its proper orbit, to order the particles and emanations of energy of the universe, to restore harmony to every creature that lives and breathes, and to put an end to all suffering and conflict, to all scarcity and want, to every manifestation of disease and discord.  Jesus has come to re-create the universe, and He comes to start with us: His often clueless disciples upon whom He has mercy.

Jesus was transfigured for our sake – to prove His divinity.  Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah for our sake – to demonstrate His fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  Jesus receives the approval of the Father who tells us to listen to Him – for our sake, to point us to the Word – even as Jesus was crucified, died, and rose for our sake.

And once more we hear His voice, His invitation to “Rise, and have no fear,” for He has come to redeem, to heal, and to save.  He has come to forgive our sins and to restore us to life.  And when we lift up our eyes, dear friends, let us see “Jesus only,” confessing Him both as God and man, both as Lord and Savior, both as the one who has come to destroy evil, and to sanctify us by His Word.

And though we did not witness this transfiguration, one who did, St. Peter, reminds us that “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, February 01, 2019

The Orwellitarian Party

Nicholas Sarwark is the chairman of the Libertarian (sic) Party (LP). 

In recent years, the LP has been abandoning the libertarian principles that gave it its name.  Libertarianism is a political philosophy that stresses the limitations of government based on the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), a belief that initiating violence against peaceful people is morally wrong, and that human interaction ought to be based on voluntary cooperation instead of coercion.

Libertarianism therefore stresses private property, free trade, non-intervention in foreign policy, and advocates for private sector solutions to social problems versus a reliance on the State.  Libertarianism is thus grounded in free markets, and is the antithesis of totalitarianism that manifests itself in various forms of dictatorial Statism, such as Communism (International Socialism) and Nazism (National Socialism).  There are degrees of libertarianism, such as the more moderate minarchism, and the more radical anarcho-capitalism.

What is so vexing about the LP in recent years is its tolerance, or even advocacy of, well... Socialism!  It's right out of Alice in Wonderland, or worse yet, an Orwellian dystopia.

It has become fashionable for prominent LP members to attack noted successful and influential libertarians like:

All of the above-mentioned are readers or students of Dr. Murray Rothbard, who was one of the founders of the LP and of the Cato Institute, as well as one of the most prolific libertarian writers in history - but who is now repudiated, if not loathed by many in the current LP leadership.

In recent years, the LP has become a laughable collection of stoners, sexual deviants, celebrity hangers-on, and open Marxists.

After speaking at the 2016 national convention and witnessing the LP's hard turn away from libertarianism, I changed my party affiliation to "independent" as soon as I got back home.  The attendees (delegates and candidates) indeed included some solid and serious-minded libertarians, but the party had clearly been hijacked. 

The above quote by Chairman Sarwark is a case in point.

Stokely Carmichael was a Marxist black nationalist/supremacist who advocated violence.  It's hard to get more antithetical to libertarian principles than that.

In 1981, while I was a 17-year old college freshman, my openly-Socialist professor of Sociology strongly encouraged us to attend a lecture on campus by her hero Stokely Carmichael (who at this time was calling himself Kwame Ture).  She was so embarrassingly excited that I though she might wet herself.  I attended this event, which was essentially a Hitler rally for militant black nationalists.  Carmichael ranted against whites, referring to us as "animals" and called for our extermination.  He called for Marxist revolution and railed against "capitalist pigs."  Being a slightly built white teenager, I got out of there while the crowd was whipped up into a frenzy.  I was appalled by what I had seen.

At the next class, our professor was gushing about Carmichael's performance.  She asked for reactions.  The class was quiet.  After a couple of awkward minutes, I piped up.  I did not approve of calls of violence against whites, nor of the endorsement of Marxism.  In less than a decade, the Berlin wall and the Iron Curtain would fall, and the USSR would break up.  In the early eighties, as the wheels were coming off, we were starting to hear more and more about the cruel Gulag system and the unspeakable repression and poverty that the people of the USSR were suffering - especially as defectors managed to escape the horror.

Other students also expressed their disapproval of Mr. Ture's rhetoric.  The professor looked like a deflated tire.  Had this happened in the current environment, perhaps I would have been sent to sensitivity training or expelled on account of my criticism.

And this Stokely Carmichael is the kind of person that Nicholas Sarwark quotes as an exemplar of libertarian thought, while at the same time, trashing Rothbard and Woods and others who blazed the trail for libertarian ideas to be promulgated in contemporary America.  If libertarians wonder why the LP considers itself successful if it exceeds a mere three percent of the votes, look no further than its tired, Socialist-friendly leadership and weak candidates

If this is what the LP wishes to be, it will continue to be (at best) nothing more than an option for people to cast a none-of-the-above protest vote, and the LP can continue congratulate itself on its great success.  Any similarity to libertarianism is becoming increasingly coincidental.

The good news is that libertarianism is an intellectual tradition, a school of thought, an alternative to Marxism that transcends things like political parties, a political philosophy that is being embraced around the world in spite of the efforts of Sarwark and the LP leadership to undermine the principles of liberty and markets and human flourishing, and in spite of their tarnishing of the term "libertarianism." 

Those who are interested in libertarianism would do well to ignore the LP - like the vast majority of Americans already do.